Who Dares to join the MMMs?
This is the question we put to Sister Bernadette Unamah and Sister Dervilla O'Donnell, when they were responsible for accompanying women in their early years in MMM. Women joining MMM today are guided there in their choice of MMM as a way of life.
Sister Bernadette made no compromises about what it takes to be an MMM. "You have to have the guts to be truly human and disciplined, amidst a society that is materialistic. To a Nigerian woman, you are nobody without money, children and a home of your own. Therefore self-sacrifice, discipline and commitment to vowed life are for those who dare to be thus."
She who dares to be an MMM is a person who is willing to touch the truth of her identity as a woman, vulnerable, poor and yet rich in different ways: one who is willing to take risks, trusting God's grace and her own capabilities. "She is someone who strives to be open to love and to be loved, who has a heart for people and is in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized.
"To be an MMM takes someone who is willing to learn and to unlearn, to update herself and be in tune with the signs of our times in order to be the prophet of tomorrow. She must be someone who can stand alone, who can be independent without being individualistic."
Sister Dervilla added, "I would be looking for women who live the values of generosity and availability; women with a certain selflessness who are God-centered; women who feel called to a missionary way of life and are attracted to Christ's healing mission. They need to be willing to take risks and have a profound respect for all peoples."
How do you explain vowed life as an MMM?
For Bernadette, vowed life as an MMM challenges young people to develop the spirit of sharing, receiving and taking responsibility for self and others. It challenges them to learn to be silent and to be present to others in a world that is becoming noisy, busy and selfish. In a society torn with war, anger and poverty, MMM as a way of life offers love and reconciliation and brings hope to those without hope. In the world that is materialistic and hard for people to let go, young people tend to prefer temporary commitments. The vowed life challenges young people today to see value in commitment. Vowed life challenges the world to look at issues of faithfulness, commitment, stability, sacrifice and sexuality. It calls us forth to co-operate with God by empowering people to use their gifts to create a better environment for living.
Dervilla said, "We live in a world of rapid change, where there is an instant demand for things now. These, we are led to believe, will provide happiness, where relationships are often trivialized and commitments are short term. Alongside this is a real search for meaning and fulfillment. The vow of consecrated celibacy, the vow to love, is the vow that confounds most people. How can we live it and choose not have our own homes, family and children? In societies where political power and authority have been corrupted, the understanding of the vow of obedience as a vow for collaboration is challenging. The poor in societies where we are missioned teach us from their poverty the real value of sharing, simplicity of life, responsible stewardship and how relationships are what nourish us. For each of us and the novices to fully live these vows we need to make choices. They are choices that are rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus and a belief that we are involved in trying to build the Reign of God in a world deeply and violently divided."
How do you teach novices to pray ?
"Prayer and connectedness to God is innate in African people, as in the Irish," said Dervilla. "Our deep sense ot the spiritual is there if we can tap into that level of awareness. Sometimes it will depend on the reflectiveness of the person. In community, time for prayer together, and time for personal prayer are carefully allocated, and novices are involved in liturgical preparation as the year unfolds. In coursework, both in the novitiate and in inter-congregational programmes, they get plenty of opportunity to explore and share their discoveries on what the great spiritual writers have taught."
Can a Director of Novices speak of 'job satisfaction'?
"You cannot have achievable goals like you might in another job," Dervilla told us. "It is God's Spirit who is in charge and I am invited to cooperate with the Spirit and not to be an obstacle. I have the sense of being invited into the sacred ground of the novices life, where I touch the Mystery of God as it unfolds in each person's unique story. I feel privileged and grateful as I accompany the them in their journey of faith, self-discovery and growing identity with MMM." Satisfying? Yes. "It is tremendously satisfying to see these generous young women growing, maturing in their faith, in their own sense of identity and in their identity in MMM. When I see them opting for a life of caring with compassion for the sick, or for those less well off, then it makes my job feel worthwhile."
Bernadette also spoke of the sense of walking on sacred ground and of the person's search for identity. "It is indeed a treading on sacred ground. The job of accompanying young women on their faith journey may be difficult at times. It is demanding and energy-taking but there is also something in these young women that energises me. It gives me satisfaction to be able to bring hope to a young woman during her personal struggles for identity. It is rewarding to see a novice growing step by step from where she first began, sometimes afraid of the unknown, anxious about her desire for commitment, then moving into a time of freedom and becoming responsible with a positive approach to life."
What is the most important gift needed for your job ?
"Patience," they both agreed. "We are not in charge; it is the Spirit who guides all this and we have to wait for the Spirit's time. To be able to cooperate and not to be an obstacle to that movement and to be sensitive to the movements in each person is a big challenge. We need to be good listeners, to have compassion, openness to differences, be they cultural or related to personality."
Bernadette pointed out, "In a way, the novices are our mirrors! They call me forth to action; to a hard and constant renewal of my faith and a reminder of the implications of my vowed life. Seeing these beautiful women with zeal and interest for religious life in a world that has become materialistic and competitive reminds me that there is a lot of wonder and value in religious life."
Dervilla said, "One of the most challenging things about this ministry is the constant change in community membership. Novitiate is two years, so our membership changes a lot as novices become professed Sisters or leave. There is also a richness and blessing in this as new members come from different nationalities and cultures. I rarely have the opportunity to meet my former novices because they are missioned to far-away places. I really appreciate when I hear from them in their new missions in Brazil, Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, etc., and how their lived experiences are challenging and deepening their understanding of our MMM way of life."